The Wollongong Hawks gave up a perfect chance to tighten their grip on a top four spot tonight in Perth.
Backing up from Friday night’s eight-point road victory over Adelaide, the Hawks had to settle for a split of their round 17 double after an 80-52 thrashing from the Perth Wildcats.
Wollongong held a surprising 34-25 lead with six minutes remaining in the first half before having the life choked out of them by the Wildcats’ suffocating defence.
The Hawks’ dismal 14-point second-half output is believed to be the lowest in club history.
Despite the trouncing, Wollongong (9-11) remain in the top four by the narrowest of margins from fifth-placed Melbourne (8-10).
The Hawks host the Tigers on Friday in a clash which has taken on critical importance for both teams.
After out-working Adelaide under the boards in Friday’s win, Wollongong were out-rebounded 40-27 by the Cats.
Perth grabbed a whopping 20 offensive boards and out-scored the visitors 24-2 on second-chance points.
They also harrassed Wollongong into 18 turnovers and scored 24 points directly from those mistakes.
The Hawks were playing their second game since last week’s retirement of injured veteran Glen Saville.
Forward Dave Gruber was a last-minute arrival for the weekend road trip, showing up just before tip-off against Adelaide after staying home on Thursday night for the birth of his first child.
The Hawks started well tonight and scores were locked at 13-all midway through the first quarter.
The Cats got their noses in front but Wollongong drew level again at 20-all.
Guard Everard Bartlett knocked down a three-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds to give Perth a 23-19 quarter-time lead.
The Hawks came out firing in the second period, surging to a 34-25 lead after threes by Oscar Forman and Adris Deleon.
Perth coach Rob Beveridge sensed the danger and called timeout to jolt his side into action.
Shawn Redhage took it upon himself to get the Cats going, scoring on an aggressive drive and following with a three.
The home team added two more unanswered baskets to retake the lead, but Deleon broke the drought with a three and added a free throw soon after to put Wollongong up 38-35 at half-time.
Redhage led the Cats with 10 points, Matt Knight had nine and Bartlett added eight.
Deleon was up to a game-high 14, Forman had nine and Malcolm Grant chipped in seven.
More than four minutes of the third period ticked away before the Hawks added to their first-half total, as Perth opened with a 9-0 run.
Wollongong briefly stemmed the flow, but they couldn’t cope with their opponents’ relentless effort under the offensive boards.
The Cats held a 32-20 rebounding edge after three periods and 18 of those had come at the offensive end.
When the third quarter ended, the Hawks had managed just seven points and fallen behind 56-45.
The Cats didn’t give Wollongong a sniff in crunch time, romping to a comfortable win to make up for Friday night’s heavy road loss to the New Zealand Breakers.
The Hawks return home today to start preparing for Friday’s big game against Melbourne.